Webinar Script

Slide 1: This webinar talks about reading as part of a broader language development process. I am Emily Kresiak, Research Assistant working for WordFarmers Associates on behalf of the Ohio Partnership for Excellence in Paraprofessional Preparation at the University of Dayton School of Education and Health Sciences Grant Center.

Slide 2: Communication is essential to humans because we are social beings. Under normal circumstances, people enjoy the company of others and like to share activities and conversation. In every culture, people communicate as they work and play together.  They share stories, information, gossip, jokes, and opinions.

Slide 3:  Communication between people is conducted mostly through a language of words, though gestures are used for clarity or emphasis. Words may be spoken, written, or signed, and most people are capable of using their knowledge of words to express their ideas and to understand what others say to them. The use of speech, writing, and signing to communicate to others is considered expressive language. Interpreting what is said, written, or signed is considered receptive language.

Slide 4: In oral language, receptive language involves listening; and expressive language involves speech.  In written language, expressive language occurs through writing, and receptive language through reading. In the language of signs, such as American Sign Language, expressive language uses a vocabulary of gestures requiring movements of the hands and arms; and receptive language requires watching and interpreting these gestures that have been assigned specific meanings.

Slide 5: For most people, oral language develops naturally, with or without schooling. Written language, on the other hand, usually must be taught through purposeful instruction of some kind. Signing, too, must be taught. Historically, written English, along with many other languages, and sign languages, is based on oral language.

Slide 6: In individuals, speech forms the basis for written communication, though the skills for written language differ in many ways from the skills for spoken language. The two skill sets develop independently for a time, and then converge as students begin to learn how to read, though typically, people’s receptive language is more advanced than their expressive language, no matter their age or education level.  We usually understand more words and ideas than we use in speech and writing.

Slide 7: Children’s early learning of oral language depends heavily on the human inborn neural systems that enable them to perceive certain sounds and link the sounds with what they see and feel. It also depends on social and physical interactions with the people around them.  Though there are stories that feature children raised by other animals, such as wolves, and who are able to talk, no one who is isolated from human contact develops human language, so oral language depends on the interaction of two essentials: innate neurological systems that support language development, and early and continuing interaction with others through language.

Slide 8: As with oral language, which develops from cooing to babbling to telegraphic speech and then to sentences, there is a typical sequence to written communication as well. Toddlers scribble randomly at first, just making marks on the paper (or wall). By the time they’re about three years old, they can draw circles. By the time they’re four years old, they can draw squares. By the time they are five or six years old, many have enough hand-eye coordination to draw the more difficult diamond-shape with its slanting lines. By the time they start kindergarten or first grade, children can copy letters, though not with much precision or consistency of shape and size. However, it’s important to remember that these developmental timetables vary from child to child.

Slide 9: The environment around the child influences both sequences of language development—oral language development and written language development. When parents, siblings, and, later, teachers act excited about children’s words, respond to them, ask questions, and elaborate on what the children say, oral language development of many children proceeds at a rapid rate. Children whose language does not elicit much interest or excitement from people around them and who are not encouraged to expand on their ideas usually don’t develop oral language as rapidly as other children. Their vocabulary may be smaller, and their understanding of the patterns that occur in words and sentences may lag behind that of other children.

Slide 10: The same is true of writing. Parents, siblings, or teachers who have the time and interest to encourage children to scribble, draw, and write letters and words help make those efforts pleasurable to children. These children’s writing skills are likely to develop at a faster rate than those of other children whose attempts to scribble, draw, and write receive less attention from adults and peers.

Slide 11: During the period when literacy emerges, children’s past experiences with language, both oral and written, have an impact on their interest in reading and their ability to read. Differences in these experiences account for much of the difference in reading achievement.

Slide 12: For children whose language development has been interrupted or delayed, special instruction may be essential to their success with communication, whether oral or written.

Slide 13: Students whose primary language is not English are, in an odd sense, delayed in language development as soon as they are placed into a classroom of native English speakers.

Slide 14: Among the many things that can interfere with typical development of spoken and written language skills are sensory disabilities, such as hearing or vision impairments, or motor impairments, such as those accompanying cerebral palsy. Low-incidence disabilities such as autism or Down Syndrome or other intellectual disability often delay language development significantly.

Slide 15: For all of these students, positive, stimulating, and meaningful interaction structured to foster language development, individualized according to their needs, is important to their achievement in reading. In observing classrooms over the years, we have often been surprised at how little opportunity students are given to talk about what they’re learning.

Slide 16: For a variety of reasons, some students tend to get many more opportunities than other students. Some get so little opportunity that they may as well have stayed home, for all of the attention their language and ideas received! This may be especially true for children with delayed language development who do not have the confidence to raise their hands and call attention to themselves. Consequently, educators must purposefully structure supportive opportunities for all students to participate in academic talk with peers and adults.

Slide 17: In structuring supportive opportunities for academic talk, by students whose language development has been interrupted or delayed, four approaches require thoughtful attention and planning:  (1) seeking communication, (2) acknowledging communication, (3) augmenting communication, and (4) substituting communication. Following are examples of the use of all four of these approaches.

Slide 18:  In supporting communication with all students, we seek communication first. This is more of a challenge with some students than others. Simply moving within a student’s field of vision is important for students who cannot hear the teacher’s question or instruction to them, students with hearing impairments, for example. Making and keeping eye contact with the student as you speak and as the student speaks is especially important for students with hearing impairments, who often depend on lip-reading and facial expression in understanding spoken language. In seeking communication, gesturing cues students as to when they’re to respond and can cue them in other ways as well.

Slide 19: Not only is seeking communication important, acknowledging communication is also essential. Students whose primary language is not English may especially benefit from interactions that acknowledge their efforts at using this new, unfamiliar language. English language learners (ELLs) need whole class, small-group, and one-on-one instruction that acknowledges their successes and offers support for improvement. In the case of Kim, for example, whose native language is Korean, his teacher, the paraprofessional, and his English-speaking classroom buddy respond readily and positively in different settings to let him know they understand or to ask questions about the meaning of his statements. All three are accepting of his efforts and sometimes paraphrase what he has said in order to model English sentence patterns, vocabulary, and pronunciation for Kim.

Slide 20: In a one-on-one setting, the paraprofessional works with Kim on his English pronunciation, which has features that reflect his native language, such as omitting the “th” sound in words like “that” “then,” and clothes.”  In this one-on-one setting, too, acknowledging Kim’s communication efforts and providing smiling and courteous corrective feedback that elaborates on his responses is important to his learning.

Slide 21: Augmenting communication is an important way to develop communication skills in students with severe difficulties with oral and written language, students such as Mickey, whose motor skills for speaking and writing are affected by cerebral palsy. Because of visual impairment, Mickey reads only large print materials. His reading comprehension is at the fourth-grade level, two or three grade levels behind most students his age. He can participate in class discussion, as his speech is mostly understandable, though it is slow and labored. He uses recorded books when the school can get the ones needed for his class. The paraprofessional reads aloud or tape-records some of his classroom reading materials, as well as working one-on-one with him to improve his reading comprehension.

Slide 22: Scott, a first-grade student diagnosed as having autism, has hardly any expressive language, and it isn’t clear how much receptive language he has. He rarely interacts with other students even when they try to interact with him. A behavioral specialist is working with the teacher and the paraprofessional to implement a plan to improve Scott’s communication skills. In keeping with Scott’s IEP, the paraprofessional is helping him learn to use a simple communication board. It provides a substitute for oral communication that helps Scott interact with others.

Slide 23: At first, the paraprofessional gave Scott a treat whenever he pointed at one of the pictures on the communication board, but now that he has learned that pointing to a particular picture can get him that treat (e.g., a sip of orange juice), she only gives him the treat if he looks in her direction when he points to the picture. Shaping his behavior in this way, she will soon have him making eye contact with her in order to get a treat by pointing to the picture. Later, she will work on getting him to say the word for the treat as he points to the picture.

Slide 24: As you see, substituting alternative forms of communication can be important for many students with difficulties in receptive or expressive language development. We mentioned finger-spelling, signing, and recorded books, but Braille is another medium for written language. Students with visual impairments so severe that they cannot read large print books and cannot see well enough to write or use ordinary keyboards, often use Braille books and software.

Slide 25: To review: the four approaches to improving language development discussed in this unit are (1) seeking communication by making eye contact, gesturing, and moving within a student’s field of vision; (2) acknowledging communication by smiling, responding, and elaborating on students’ language efforts; (3) augmenting communication by using speech-generating software or communication boards; and (4) substituting communication through the use of recorded books, sign language, and Braille.

Slide 26: Whichever approach is used, instruction to enhance language development is most effective when educators create numerous and varied opportunities for positive, stimulating, and meaningful interaction structured to address the abilities and interests of the students.